The alba-tcp: Looking with Keen Eyes
Christopher David Absell
THE NATURE OF THE CRITICAL APPROACH ( ...continuation )

Although the works incuded in the second category (see Table 2) present minor criticisms of the alba-tcp, these criticisms are either left undeveloped (Ruiz et al., 2004) or are downplayed in favor of the organization (Revanales Monsalve, 2009). In one of the first comparative studies of the ftaa and the alba-tcp, Ruíz and Linares argued that the alba-tcp had three main weaknesses: a) a democractic deficit in its organizational apparatus; b) the unilateral nature of its development; and c) confusion as to the nature of the relationship between the alba-tcp and other regional initiatives such as unasur (Ruiz et al., 2004: 41). Although these were indeed pertinent criticisms, they were not developed in detail, unlike the authors’ critique of the ftaa which was based on substantial macroeconomic analysis. As previously mentioned, the article by Revanales Monsalve criticized the ftaa and the alba-tcp for the lack of their theoretical and supra-national bases. Despite these weaknesses, the author claimed that the alba-tcp “...could be a new model of integration...based on traditional objectives such as the common good and human development...” (Revanales Monsalve, 2009:450). In this way, Revanales Monsalve discounted the importance of the apparent weaknesses of the alba-tcp's institutional and organizational make-up in favor of a perspective imbued with the ideological bias of the primary sources from which it was derived.

The works included in the third category (see Table 2) present substantial critical analysis of the alba-tcp. These criticisms have not been empirically verified and, in this sense, only represent a critical reading of the same primary sources used by those authors in the first two categories. Andrés Serbin reflected Ruíz and Linares’ first criticism when he argued that the alba-tcp suffered from a “democratic deficit” in its organizational apparatus. In a comparative study of the ftaa, the unasur and the alba-tcp, the author observed that “...it is evident that the emergence of the alba, with its social emphasis and its basis in the regional policies of Chávez ... doesn’t hesitate to introduce into the regional integration agenda the social and political dimensions frequently overlooked in the past” (Serbin, 2007: 199). Paradoxically, Serbin observed that, “...in terms of the participation of civil society, the alba has only offered, to this point, the organization of the First Meeting of Social Movements held by the alba in Venezuela and the potential incorporation of the Council of Social Movements into its formal structure...” Furthermore, despite being“...open to proposals from social movements...”, the nexus of decision-making power remained with the State. Indeed, this criticism highlighted one of the greatest contradictions of the alba-tcp, which is the tension between the member-states’ dependency upon natural resource exploitation and the representation of an “organized society” largely opposed to this exploitation for social and environmental reasons. Using the natural gas pipeline project announced in 2006 by the governments of Argentina, Brazil and Venezuela7 as an example of this democratic deficit, Serbin argued that the alba-tcp “...has given little contemplation to the criticisms of certain social movements or the participation of its citizens in signed inter-State agreements” (Serbin, 2007: 204).

Another critical analysis of the alba-tcp was made by Steven Siptroth. After an examination of both the ftaa and alba-tcp proposals and how they might impact upon State sovereignty, civil and political rights, social and economic rights, and investor protections, Siptroth (like Revalanes Monsalve) concluded that both of these agreements were “individually inadequate” as proposals for integration: “The problem with both proposals is that they are diametrically opposed on the socio-economic spectrum. Because of their polar positions vis-à-vis one another, neither, as currently designed, has the potential to gain the acceptance of all countries in the Americas” (Siptroth, 2007: 391). The ftaa was presented as an agent of neoliberal reform which “...aims to create wealth by reducing trade barriers, increasing macroeconomic and institutional efficiency, and guaranteeing investor protection and market access.” On the other hand, the alba-tcp, “seeks to improve the social conditions within member states by creating a cooperative economic environment that creates wealth through significant State control over natural resource management” (Siptroth, 2007: 390). Siptroth conceived a compromise solution that is situated somewhere in between these two proposals: “A better alternative would be combining the social welfare goals of the Boliviarian Alternative for the Americas with the open market and tariff reductions promised by the Free Trade Area of the Americas. A ‘Free Trade Area of the Americas-Plus’ proposal would promise an effective means of economic unification for the Americas” (Siptroth, 2009: 361).

7 The Southern Gas Pipeline Project.